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The blame game

Pointing fingersEveryone makes mistakes, including lawyers (and even myself on occasion — just ask my wife). And while most mistakes are correctable, the way in which they are handled will go a long way towards your creditability, both within your own office and within the legal community.

In the deadline-driven world of litigation, attorneys and their staff are often pressed for time. Whether the task involves a response to a  motion or the completion of document requests, the clock is always ticking. With this continuous pressure and the burdens of a busy practice, attorneys may rely on staff and other lawyers to complete tasks.

I work with several different paralegals, secretaries, partners and associates during the course of my practice. One of the tenets of my practice, instilled upon me when I was a much younger associate at the firm, is if you sign it, you are responsible for it. A rather simplistic rule, but an important one.

Nothing garners bitterness and contempt from those you work with more than consistently blaming others for your mistakes. And, in the world of Maryland’s small legal community, this reputation may follow you.

On several occasions, I have heard attorneys “air their laundry” about an individual that refused to accept responsibility for any of their actions (and this was told to people outside of their firm). Accepting responsibility for a mistake is also a way to take ownership of one’s case. If you want to be the decision maker and lead counsel, you must bear both the risks and rewards in that position. If you only seek the glory without accepting the risks, then you will never truly be in charge of a case.

In all honesty, most mistakes (outside of the courtroom) are correctable. Pleadings can be amended and explanations can be given; mistakes, however, cannot be simply sweep under the rug. They must be tackled immediately and head on or they could morph into something bigger and out of your control. Own your mistakes as much as you own any of your successes.